Linguistics and imperialism

asked 2015-06-20 16:12:53 -0500

Richard Durkan gravatar image

In a recent book The Labyrinths of Language, Prof Franson Manjali argues that the emergence of modern linguistics can only be understood in terms of colonialism and colonial politics. He focuses on William Jones but also invokes Humboldt, Herder and Max Mueller as well. In another recent book, Sapiens: A Brief History Humankind, Dr Yuval Noah Harari states that because Europeans believed that to govern effectively they must know the languages and cultures of their subjects, they studied linguistics which provided invaluable help in understanding the structure and grammar of local languages. He specifically links linguistics to imperialism.

Are these two authors overstating their case?

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